Judaism in Ukraine
Jewish settlement in Ukraine predates the region’s recorded history, according to the Yivo Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe, which says Kyiv had a Jewish quarter as early as the 11th century.
For the most part, the community flourished, although it faced periods of persecution and antisemitic discrimination particularly during the Nazi period, when it is estimated that up to 1 million Ukrainian Jews were murdered.
But before the Russian invasion, Ukraine was home to up to 140,000 Jews, according to the World Jewish Congress, and religion was not an issue before the April 2019 election of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, a Jew. And for a brief period early in Zelenskyy’s tenure, before Volodymyr Groysman was replaced as prime minister in 2019, Ukraine was the only country other than Israel with a Jewish head of state and Jewish head of government.
Tens of thousands of Ukrainian Jews have fled since the Russians invaded, while about 80 percent remain in Ukraine, according to estimates from Chabad, one of the largest Hasidic Jewish organizations in the world. So many will celebrate Passover, which ends Saturday, away from their homes.
“Passover for Jewish people means freedom, the Jewish people escape from Egypt slavery. You know, history can come back because the Ukrainian people would like to escape from the Soviet Union,” Azman said, echoing some experts who have suggested that the invasion was partly driven by Putin’s desire to revive the bloc of 15 republics including Ukraine.